*Note: This list is subject to change over time.
20 – Gunslinger Girl (2003)
Set in Italy, Gunslinger Girl is an engaging yet depressing series about a group of girls who are brainwashed and given cybernetic advancements. They work for a Social Welfare Agency, and each girl is partnered up with an adult male handler. More than anything, I became very interested in the structure of each relationship, particularly the one between Henrietta and her handler, Jose. Even though the girls are conditioned to fight and obediently follow orders, they struggle with how they’re being treated every day, which definitely touched me. The sequel, Gunslinger Girl Il Teatrino, isn’t as good as the first season, but I still love the franchise.
19 – Les Miserables Shoujo Cosette (2007)
I’m a big fan of ”World Masterpiece Theater” series which are anime adaptations of classic, famous stories. I have already seen a couple other versions of Les Miserables, such as the 1998 movie starring Liam Nesson, and a very impressive high school musical play. A common complaint that people have regarding the anime is that it’s too “kid-friendly” compared to the novel. Yes, it is kid-friendly, but so what? The story is still fantastic and has its dark moments, and the characters are unforgettable. This is the best WMT series I’ve seen yet, and I wish that more people would give it a chance. Good news, it’s finally subbed in English!
18 – Mushishi (2005)
Mushishi masterfully weaves in supernatural elements with nature, resulting in a beautifully told, deep series. A man named Ginko travels through forests, villages, and over mountains to solve issues between people and organisms called “mushi.” Mushi can take on many strange forms, sometimes as plants, rainbows, and dreams. Each individual case is well-crafted and meaningful, and the nature landscapes are absolutely breathtaking. This is an instant classic.
17 – Dennou Coil (2007)
If Hayao Miyazaki ever creates a science fiction anime series, I would imagine it to look something just like this. This anime is for kids, yet it contains a handful of scientific concepts. The characters wear special glasses that allow them to see and interact with the cyber world, and taking care of cyber pets is very common. A special group of kids called the Coil Dennou Investigation Agency track down missing cyber pets, and they bump into a mysterious girl who is able to expertly manipulate cyber space. The premise is simple, but the later episodes reveal an awesome story.
16 – Tiger & Bunny (2011)
I loved superhero cartoons when I was a kid, especially the classic X-Men. Now, a new series has arrived where the people with powers are called “NEXT” instead of mutants, and their rescue missions are being recorded on HERO TV Live! Tiger & Bunny just brings the superhero genre back to life for me. It’s a blast to watch and succeeds in making me laugh, which is rare. The serious, dark moments are also excellent. Needles to say, I am a big fangirl, and I have a very sexy wallscroll of Tiger and Bunny hanging on my bedroom wall. Squee~! <3
15 – Puella Magi Madoka★Magica (2011)
Without a doubt, Madoka★Magica is the darkest magical girl anime in existence. I felt completely immersed in its apocalyptic story where five magical girls struggle to survive a horrifying fate. Just about everything managed to blow me away, ranging from the abstract artwork and music composition to the dramatic, psychologically gripping story and well-animated action. Each episode ends with a freaky cliffhanger, driving me absolutely crazy as to find out what what was going to happen next. Don’t be fooled by its cover.
14 – Guin Saga (2009)
When it comes to sequels, I want Guin Saga to have a second season the most. It is an epic fantasy tale about two siblings known as the “Pharos twins” who have their kingdom taken away from them, and they meet a mysterious man with a leopard’s head. Despite that he has total amnesia, he promises to protect them along their way to get their kingdom back. The first half is adventurous while the second half delves more into politics, romance, and war. Unfortunately, there are still so many unanswered questions left at the end, but there is plenty of manga material to make like a dozen sequels, so I’m crossing my fingers for at least one! As a side note, the Guin Saga manga inspired my other favorite work, Berserk, which is next on my list.
13 – Berserk (1997)
My brother forced me to watch this series a long time ago, and I certainly didn’t expect to like it more than he did. Berserk is a dark medieval anime that is highly regarded as a classic today. A lone swordsman named Guts joins a mercenary group called ‘The Band of the Hawk’ which is lead by a very charismatic leader, Griffith. Together, they get involved in wars and horrifying events that are simply beyond this world. I find the story to be so fantastically intriguing that I am currently following the manga, which is a hundred times darker than the anime. Still, I’m really looking forward to the Berserk movies which have finally been announced after years of waiting.
12 – Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood (2009)
Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood impressed me much more than the first series that came out several years ago. I initially regarded the franchise as just any other popular shounen, but now I see it as a complete masterpiece; one such reason is because it actually follows the manga. It has a chock-full of intricate plots and the best villains in anime. Plus, the animation by Bones is top-notch!
11 – Glass Mask (2005)
I never watched the original Glass Mask, but the remake is addicting! An average-looking girl named Maya has a talent for acting, and she takes on difficult roles to eventually make a name for herself. The process to achieving this is detailed; you will see her rehearsing for weeks, trying to balance her career with her personal life, and competing with the oh-so-popular Ayumi for the role of The Crimson Goddess. Maya’s relationship with an older man, Hayami, turned me into a helpless little fangirl. I’m dying to read the continuation in the manga as soon as it becomes fully translated.
10 – Bokurano (2007)
Bokurano gives a totally unique spin on the mecha genre. A group of children are selected to participate in a ‘game’ in which they pilot a giant robot to protect their world, but they unknowingly enter the twilight zone, the place of no return where there is a freaky twist to everything. Each character’s lifestyle is explored in-depth, allowing you to become emotionally invested in their troubles. I often hear that the manga is a lot better, so I’ll have to check it out sometime. But from what I can see now, the anime is amazing for its eerie atmosphere and well-developed, large cast.
9 – Toward the Terra (2007)
The power of the mind is strong, but a race of humans called “Mu” are capable of telepathy, flying, and moving objects. Normal humans fear and hate the Mu, and they chase them through the depths of space trying to exterminate every last one of them. This is an incredible heartfelt, epic scifi as you follow the Mu who only want to live in peace, and the humans who are being manipulated by an advanced computer system called “mother.” Every single episode is designed to move the plot forward and keep us engaged. I absolutely loved the futuristic setting, stunning visuals, and the old-fashioned character designs.
8 – Steins;Gate (2011)
Adapted from a visual novel, Steins;Gate is a spectacular new scifi series about a group of friends who become too deeply involved with a time machine. This anime just gives me the chills because the consequences of using the time machine are always unpredictable and really quite freaky. Several characters have a mystery background that make for excellent plot twists later on. The pacing may be slow, but it works in favor for having strong character development and a solid story that grows in intensity.
7 – Fantastic Children (2004)
An enigmatic group of white-haired children have been appearing around the world in different time periods, and they just never seem to grow older. They are on a mission to find a certain girl who is being reincarnated over and over, yet they keep missing her in each life and are being followed by an obsessed detective. This series might start out a bit too slow for most people, but I found the second half to be a very rewarding experience. Fantastic Children comes with loads of surprises, and it mixes in several different genres: mystery, romance, scifi, supernatural, adventure, history, fantasy, and steampunk, all of which make this series a truly remarkable one.
6 – Fate/zero (2011)
I didn’t add Fate/zero this high up in my list because of the hype—rather, I am in love with the story/characters and have been reading the novel. If you ask me, it deserves all the hype. The anime is just icing on the cake, adding eye candy to what is already an enthralling masterpiece. There’s just nothing more epic than a group of invincible heroic spirits fighting to death for the Holy Grail in the modern world with magus killers as masters. Or should I say, the King of Conquerors’ pants.
5 – The Rose of Versailles (1979)
The Rose of Versailles is a classic historical shoujo that is set before and during the French Revolution. A girl named Oscar Francois de Jarjayes is raised as a man by her father so that she can become the next leader of the Palace Guards. She protects and befriends Marie Antoinette on her way to becoming queen, but in reality, she is torn over politics and the injustice in her country. In addition to that, she struggles with her identity as a woman and her romantic life. The plot is great, and the characters are wonderful and charming, but Oscar is simply the strongest female protagonist that I have ever come across in anime.
4 – When the Cicadas Cry (2006)
This includes the entire Higurashi franchise: Higurashi no naku Koro Ni, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kai, and Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Rei. This series appears to be deceptive at first, but it turns out to be a chilling horror filled with plot twists, blood, torture, and the creepiest facial expressions ever. The theme of “friendship” is surprisingly strong, and I was completely drawn into Rika’s emotions and struggles. Currently playing the visual novel!
3 - Last Exile (2003)
I like to refer to Last Exile as my “golden moment” in anime because it has had the greatest impact on me. Upon watching it seven years ago, I was so in awe of the original story, setting, and gorgeous airship battles that I developed a love for scifi/steampunk. I also fell in love with the characters, namely Alex Rowe, who left me crying like a baby at the end. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever cried so hard from watching an anime series before. Last Exile was my favorite anime for a looong long time. Despite that it is no longer number one, nothing can quite compare to how special and nostalgic it feels. Loving the sequel!
2 – Monster (2004)
Monster is the best psychological thriller ever to grace the anime scene. The plot is dark, gripping, and mature, and it always kept me at the edge of my seat. Set in Germany, a brilliant brain surgeon named Dr. Tenma saves the life of a young boy and psychopath, Johan, at the cost of his career and good fortunes. Johan mysteriously disappears, and years later, Dr. Tenma is mistakenly charged for his crimes and goes on a quest to find him. He bumps into many interesting people along the way, including a persistent detective who is convinced that he is guilty and that Johan is just a figment of his imagination. I’ve enjoyed re-watching Monster several times. Classics like this never get old.
1 – Legend of the Galactic Heroes (1988)
As you can probably tell by now, I love space operas, and LOGH is simply the best of the best. Sure, I really enjoyed Toward the Terra and Planetes, but this… This is like the ‘Star Wars’ of anime, as it truly stands in a league all of its own. The story follows an interstellar war between the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance, and everything about this series is brilliant: the politics, intricate space battles, characters, plot twists, and so on. The war heavily depends on two new brilliant commanders who slowly rise to power on each side, and their polar opposite personalities make this a very entertaining watch. Plus, there are over seventy characters, most of which are interesting and develop somehow. LOGH blew my mind, and I doubt that anything will be able to surpass it in a long, long time… Maybe never.